From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914
Christian and Catholic
THE HOLY SEE
IT is a habit with some to speak of the see of Rome as the "Holy See." It is part of the effort to present Rome in an attractive light and to create a desire for union with her.
As Catholics all that is Catholic, in Rome or elsewhere, we love. In many ways, her people, by their faith and zeal, set us an inspiring example. We feel that a church that so realizes the unseen world and is so filled with such devotion must, on these accounts, be dear to Christ. We have no desire, especially when all Christians should be drawing together, to say aught against the Catholicity she embodies. Whatever we do say, it is with the consciousness and willing acknowledgment of our own shortcomings. Not then in disparagement of what is Catholic in our sister Church, but writing for our own people, let us examine Rome's claim to the title of "The Holy See."
Holiness is one of the marks of the Catholic Church. She is holy because the Holy Spirit dwells within her. Holy because she possesses in her sacraments the means of developing holiness. Holy because she has in her saints the highest ideals of holiness, and in every age is producing them. If the special holiness claimed for the Roman see is like that of the Church, it will possess it in like manner as a distinctive and permanent feature. Persons will doubtless decide this question as they do similar ones, governed largely by their religious presuppositions. But admitting Newman's argument that where there is the most grace, there through its rejection we shall find the worst sin; where, in other words, there is the most light, there are the strongest shadows, yet must we not shut our eyes to a good deal of history to find in the Roman see any special marks of sanctity? For must it not surpass all others in holiness to make good its claim to be pre-eminently "The Holy See," and can any unprejudiced historian say that it does so?
Let us then consider together some of its notable features. One feature of it is that, to a degree unlike any other see in Christendom, it has the reputation of being connected with a long series of forgeries. It was the oft-repeated reproach of the Greeks that the Roman Church was " the native home of inventions and falsification of documents." Historians have often in the pursuance of their duty brought them before the public. The authors of "The Pope and the Council," who were trained Roman theologians, give some fifty pages to an account of them. "Like," they say, "successive strata of the earth covering one another, so layer after layer of forgeries and falsifications was piled up in the Church."
We will cite from the above-mentioned work some few examples.
First, we find it inserted in the Roman manuscript of the sixth Nicene canon that "the Roman Church always had the primacy," a fraud which was exposed at the council of Chalcedon. Next, in the fathers, S. Augustine had said that all those writings of the Bible were pre-eminently attested which the Apostolical Churches had received. This passage was corrupted to signify that those epistles belong to canonical writings which the holy see has issued. This was to put the decretal letters of the popes on a par with Scripture. Again, in proof of the alleged holiness of the popes, the fable was invented "that of the thirty popes before Constantine, all but one were martyrs." Finding it difficult to explain the apostasy of Pope Liberius, the story was credited that Liberius, when exiled, had ordained Felix as his successor, and then abdicated, so that his subsequent apostasy did not matter. In order to increase the papal power, two spurious epistles of Pope Julius were forged, to the effect that the Apostles and Nicene Council had said no council could be held without the pope's injunction. "In the fifth and beginning of the sixth century began the compilation of spurious acts of Roman martyrs which modern criticism, even at Rome, has been obliged to give up." In the middle of the ninth century arose that huge fabrication now known as the forged decretals. It was a compilation of about a hundred pretended decrees of the earliest popes, together with other spurious writings. Those documents Pope Nicholas I. (858), a man of great audacity, assured the Prankish bishops had long been preserved in the archives of the Roman Church.
"But the most potent instrument in the new papal system was Gratian's Decretum" Gratian was a great jurist about the middle of the twelfth century, whose work on canon law displaced all others. "No book has ever come near it in its influence in the Church, although there is scarcely another so full of gross errors." All these fictions, ignorantly it may be, he inserted into his code. How the Western Church unsuspectingly received the accumulated forgeries, how they gradually became adopted, how the great theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Melchior Cano built their theories of the papacy upon them, how Popes Hildebrand and Innocent III. used them to build up the present colossal papal system, is a matter of ordinary history. Thus the whole structure of the Church was changed from the ancient canonical primacy to the modern monarchical supremacy. The forged decretals did not, as Roman advocates have claimed in extenuation, give utterance to the Church's ancient tradition. The modern monarchical papacy was not contained in the original constitution of the Church as Christ made it. It could not come, as the three orders came, by way of a providential ordering. It was not a legitimate development, but a revolution. "The forged decretals completely revolutionized (Janus, 97) the whole constitution of the Church. On that point there can be no controversy among candid historians." To do this use was made, not of existing authenticated traditions, but of previously existing forgeries. A black stream of fraud and ambition had already contaminated the see, influential through its wealth and boastful of its origin. Developments of a legitimate kind there must be in God's Church, in its government as established by canons and, as she guards by definition, the faith once received. But God has no need, as Pere Gratry said, of man's lies, to further His purposes. Whatever development is formed thereby has on it a brand that denotes an evil origin and is not a development ordained of God.
Gradually, built upon this foundation of falsehood, the papacy developed into its portentous proportions. It was not until after a thousand years had passed that the bishop of Rome came to be called officially as he is now the vicar of Christ. His power under Hildebrand and Innocent III. became so magnified that he could take away kingdoms and absolve subjects from their allegiance. In the exercise of this power, untold miseries were inflicted upon innocent people, and nations were deluged with blood. As the final outcome, in 1870 the pope was declared, when speaking ex cathedra, to be officially in possession of the assisting aid of infallibility. German Roman theologians of high repute declared this was not the original Catholic faith, and revolted. American Roman Catholics to-day are imposed upon by being told that this infallibility is like that of the supreme court. But the supreme court, when it finds it has fallen into error, can and does reverse its decisions. The pope, if infallible, cannot do so. The decree of infallibility distinctly states that the papal decisions are irreformable. So in one form or another, the deceit goes on,--sometimes by concealment of former teachings, made, for instance, in Roman catechism, sometimes by audacious assertion. For now three centuries the forgeries of these decretals have been exposed. Rome, beaten in the controversy over their genuineness, has acknowledged them to be fabrications. Popes as well as Roman theologians have admitted them to be forgeries. Yet like an arch from which the wooden constructive skeleton has been removed, the papacy, built on this framework of lies, remains. The same phenomenon is to be found in Mormonism and other false religious systems. The papacy remains strong as a consolidated monarchical organization, but to the candid and discerning, with the fatal telltale marks of its origin upon it. It is not a holy see.
Again, where shall we look for special marks of holiness, if it exists in the see, save in the pontiffs themselves? So strongly has this been felt, that a papal secretary once wrote: "Popes must be held to inherit innocence and sanctity from Peter." Gregory VII. made the holiness of the popes the foundation of his claims to universal dominion. "Every sovereign," he said, "however good before, becomes corrupted by the use of power, whereas every rightly appointed pope becomes a saint, through the imputed merits of Peter." In our time the papacy has been filled by two popes of recognized Christian character. They were not free from faults, but no such squibs were put on Pasquino, Rome's jibing pillar, at their death, as on their predecessor's, Pope Gregory XVI. He was represented as offering to S. Peter a very large key, so large indeed that it did not fit the heavenly gate. He had to explain to the heavenly warden that by mistake he had brought the key to his capacious wine cellar! We gladly record the fact that not only the two late, but many popes, have been sincere followers of Jesus Christ. But can we say, on examining the history of the see, that it bears out the boast of special sanctity? Rather are we not obliged to say that no other see has been rilled with so many and such notoriously evil and bad men?
"For above sixty years," writes Janus, "from 883 to 955, the Roman Church was enslaved and degraded while the Apostolic see became a prey and plaything of rival factions of nobles, and for a long time of ambitious and profligate women." "During the papacy of Sergius," says Dean Milman, "rose into power the infamous Theodora, with her daughters Mazoria and Theodora, the prostitutes who, in the strong language of historians, disposed for many years of the papal tiara, and not content with disgracing by their own licentious lives the chief city of Christendom, actually placed their profligate paramours or base-born sons in the chair of Peter." The well-known licentious life of Cardinal Borgia did not hinder the electors from choosing him to fill S. Peter's chair. He made one of his natural sons, Caesar Borgia, a cardinal,--and the brother of his mistress Guilia, Alexandro Farnese, another. Dr. Creighton in his work on the papacy felt himself obliged to credit the scandalous story that Cardinal Caesar Borgia gave a supper in Rome to fifty prostitutes. Though conspicuous for his evil living, Alexander VI. does not stand alone. "The secularized papacy can excite nothing but disgust, but the secularization of the papacy was begun by Sixtus IV., was profound under Innocent VIII. as under Alexander VI., and was not much mended under Julius II. and Leo X." "Nearly all the line of pontiffs, Nicholas V. (1447), Calixtus III. (1455), Pius II. or Eneas Sylvius (1458), Paul II. (1464), Sixtus IV. (1471), Innocent VIII. (1484), Alexander VI. (1492), Pius III. (1503), Julius II. (1503), and Leo X. (1513), betrayed increasing love of pomp and worldly pleasures. Nepotism was the prevailing motive in their distribution of preferment; too many played a leading part in base political intrigues. Nor may we pass in silence the appalling profligacy which so often stained the reputation of the later pontiffs." Cardinal Baronius, in his history, admitting the terrible degradation of the papacy in the tenth century, could only wonder how the Church was preserved. As we look at the see's stained record in her pontiffs, we cannot, in historical justice, award it the title of "The Holy See."
Again, we ask what has been the spirit of the Roman see? Has it not been marked from the early times with that of worldly ambition, thirst for power, and political intrigues? Have there not been popes and rival popes who have hated and excommunicated one another, and Christendom been so disorganized by their strife that Christians had no sure means of knowing who the right pope was? Has the papacy, as Peter was bidden to do, put up the sword into its sheath, or has it not constantly appealed to the arm of flesh to accomplish its designs? Has not the papacy intrigued to the setting of nobles against kings, and kings against emperors, and when baffled, called on the sultan's aid? Has it not in politics been in alliance with all parties as best served its own ends? When the struggle for freedom was going on in England, was not the pope on the side of King John, not with the barons? To-day, having discovered that in our Republic his power and revenues are greater than under a monarchy, the pope poses as a friend of republicanism. But has the papacy as a rule been on the side of progress, education, and free government? The late pope put forth an admirable bull on the relation of capital and labor. There are liberal Roman ecclesiastics in America. But what about the papal government in Rome when it had the power? And has there not been found in Rome a greed for a world-wide rule which made the papacy in mediaeval times a revived Caesarism? Has not Rome claimed that Peter's two swords signified that she was the head of all temporal and spiritual power on earth? Has she not exercised this authority and laid kingdoms under interdict, and for hostility to herself excommunicated kings. One may possibly condone Hildebrand believing in the forged decretals, in his struggle for the Church's spiritual rights, but the struggle of his successor, Innocent III., aiming at increased temporal sovereignty, was something very different. "The whole significance of the papacy," says Dr. Creighton, "was altered when this desire to secure a temporal sovereignty became a leading feature of the papal policy." "The great interests of Christendom were forgotten in the struggle." "The moral prestige of the papacy was irrevocably lowered." This representative of the Lord of Peace, in his greed for dominion, has been the inciter of innumerable wars and a sea of blood flows round the papal throne. It is not in anger, but in intense sorrow we are forced to admit this. We must not allow ourselves to be hypnotized into believing Rome to be "the holy see."
Nor has this unholy spirit for worldly aggrandizement abated. Not that it now aims at feudal ascendency, but still it determinedly claims a temporal sovereignty. For years the Italians had grievously suffered under the brutality of the ecclesiastical papal government. It was one of the worst of governments of nations called civilized. The press was under inquisitorial supervision, and a daily paper did not exist in Rome till 1846. Free speech was not tolerated. Education was in the hands of priests who thought an ignorant people were the easiest governed. In many parishes there were no schools at all. Robberies and brigandism abounded. "Agriculture was at a standstill. Industrial enterprises were hindered by heavy taxes, and clerical interference. Poverty, pauperism, and beggary abounded. Justice was shamefully administered. Persons were liable to arrest without warrant. The judges were ecclesiastics, corrupt and incapable." "It is not," said Mr. Gladstone, "mere imperfection, not occasional severity; it is incessant, systematic violation of law by the power appointed to watch over it." In 1870 those who entered the dungeons of the inquisition found all kinds of instruments of torture. When in 1859 a rising took place at Perugia, the pope's foreign soldiers put it down, looting houses, massacring old and young. Pope Pius IX. personally thanked the general and had a medal struck in memory of the event. Can any true-hearted American wonder that the Italians were against such a government, or fail to sympathize with them in their struggle for liberty? A constitutional government united Italy under Victor Emmanuel, and gave to the Italians the blessing of freedom and legislative government. This government, with great liberality, secured, by its laws the papacy in the free exercise of its spiritual powers. By the articles called the "Papal Guarantees," the person of the pope is held to be sacred and inviolable. The free action of the cardinals is secured in their election of a pope. No agent of police or government official can enter the residence of the pontiff. He can have a post-office of his own, under his control, and letters to and from the pope are free from tax. Ambassadors to him are accorded the prerogatives belonging to them. To him the Italian Government renders sovereign honors and sets aside $750,000 yearly for his use. It is therefore grossly misleading to say that the pope is oppressed. He is perfectly free to exercise all his spiritual functions and powers. The free election of the present pope is a testimony of this. But he still poses for sympathy as a prisoner and begs for Peter's pence. It is unnecessary for Americans to contribute to his support when he can have so ample an income. It is untrue that his spirituality needs for its protection a temporal sovereignty. Yet to gain this and bring Italy back into its old state of political degradation is the constant effort of the papacy. It is not Christianity, but its antithesis. It is not a "holy see."
We might dwell upon many other like features of the papacy. Catholicity is of Christ, the papacy is of man. And to the spiritual-minded its distinguishing evil note is worldliness. Roman Catholicism is full of contrivances, by appeals to fear for the acquisition of wealth. The Roman Church is powerful as a great money-getting machine, and the pope lives surrounded by the etiquette of an earthly court. Rome well knows how to make her performances attractive and spectacular. The state and splendor of her magnificent processions, with the pope borne in regal state, surrounded by her cortege of richly vested cardinals, escorted by her Swiss and noble guards, with glittering armor and drawn swords, with ten thousands of excited people shouting frantically for their "Papa Re," make a spectacle thrilling, unique, unequalled. No wonder those present and those who read the sensational descriptions are carried away by it. It appeals mostly to the class who gaze with admiration on all display. Rome attracts and gains adherents, Ruskin said, "as larks are lured by the glitter of bits of glass into a trap." Her converts are often, to use an Emersonianism, "victims of glare and superstition." Her papal ceremonials appeal seductively to the worldly minded. There is nothing of the spirit of Christ or Christian worship in this papal pomp. It must grieve Christ and make, if possible, the saints and angels weep. The Russian and Eastern Churches have indeed an elaborate symbolical ceremonial accompanying their worship. The spirit of devotion, however, runs through it all. The great ceremonies peculiar to the papal see, on the other hand, have on them the mark of a worldly kingdom as they are intended to have. This worldliness is another and cumulative reason why we cannot, in justice, give to Rome the title of "The Holy See." Its true name should rather be "The Worldly See."
There is an agonizing cry going up in our day for a more unworldly, purer Christianity. Men are saying that it is not to be found in the churches; that the revelation of God in nature contradicts the commonly received theology; that the life of Christ has been overlaid with scholastic dogmas; that humanity has been neglected for ecclesiastical interests. The voice of the Lord is to be heard speaking through the nations. If the Anglican Church is to meet our century's want, she must be filled more fully with the love of God and of our fellow-man. She must energetically forward every enterprise for social and civic betterment. She must become in action what she is in her prayer-book. But she will not become united in this loving work, nor realize her inherited Catholicity, until her members are convinced that the revival of Catholicity does not purport reunion with Rome, as she is, and submission to the papal supremacy.